CALPIRG Releases HSR Study
In the long fight to support and approve high speed rail, one of our strongest allies has been the California Public Interest Research Group – or CALPIRG for short. In 2008 they did some amazing organizing on college campuses, helping spread the word and get out the vote for Prop 1A, and mounted a statewide tour along the HSR route to publicize and build support for the project.
In addition to that consciousness-raising work, CALPIRG also does what its name suggests – produce research in the public interest. In that vein, Erin Steva, CALPIRG’s Transportation Advocate, and her colleagues have produced an excellent, in-depth report on high speed rail titled Next Stop: California. Benefits of High-Speed Rail Around the World and What’s in Store for California.
(Note: As you can read on the acknowledgements page, I reviewed an early draft of the report and provided some feedback and suggestions. The report is CALPIRG’s, and they deserve credit for having produce what I think is a great report that lays out very clearly the case for HSR.)
The purpose of the report is to show Californians, especially policymakers, the benefits of HSR and how it works around the world. This is essential because too many people in Sacramento, Washington DC, and elsewhere believe that HSR is just like Caltrain, BART, Metrolink, VTA light rail, or a streetcar. It’s not. It needs to be assessed in comparison to other HSR systems, and as the CALPIRG report makes clear, the comparison shows numerous ways that California will enjoy the same successes seen around the globe.
The Executive Summary highlights the following conclusions:
High-speed rail systems in other nations have dramatically reduced air travel and significantly reduced intercity car travel….
High-speed rail saves energy and protects the environment. In California,high-speed rail could cut our dependence on oil while helping to reduce air pollution and curb global warming….
High-speed rail is safe and reliable. In California, reliable service via high-speed rail could be an attractive alternative to oft-delayed intercity flights and travel on congested freeways….
High-speed rail can create jobs and boost local economies. California’s high-speed rail system could help position the state for economic success in the 21st century while creating short-term jobs in construction….
High-speed rail lines generally cover their operating costs with fare revenues…
Properly planned high-speed rail can encourage sustainable land use and development patterns.
All of these points are backed up by considerable evidence, fully footnoted, and with stats delivered in a very easy to read chart form.
The report also offers several recommendations for how to build California high speed rail:
To obtain the economic and transportation benefits experienced by other nations, California should follow through on its decision to invest in high-speed rail, while taking actions to maximize the benefits of that investment. Specifically, California should:
Follow through on its commitment to build the California high-speed rail system, creating thousands of jobs and positioning the state to meet the economic, transportation, energy and environmental challenges of the next century.
• Use high-speed rail to focus future development by locating stations in city centers, planning for intensive commercial and residential development near stations, and requiring communities receiving high-speed rail stations to adopt land-use and development plans that discourage sprawl.
• Make high-speed rail stations accessible to people using a variety of transportation modes, including automobiles, public transit, bicycling and walking. California should follow the lead of other nations and pair high-speed rail with expansion of local transit networks.
• Integrate high-speed rail with improvements to commuter and freight rail, and provide convenient rail connections to airports, ensuring that the investment California makes in high-speed rail delivers benefits to a wide variety of commuters, travelers and businesses.
• Keep clear lines of accountability by maintaining the independence of the High-Speed Rail Authority, while ensuring strict budget discipline and spending transparency through strong oversight and public disclosure of the authority’s expenses.
• Improve lines of communication between the High-Speed Rail Authority and local governments and communities.
• Make high-speed rail green by investing in energy-efficient equipment, powering the system with renewable energy, and designing and building the system in such a way as to maximize environmental benefits.
These conclusions and recommendations are all quite sensible, and deserve a wide public hearing. Read the full report for yourself, and let’s hope that California’s political leaders continue to see the benefits of high speed rail.